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Alaska, United Express boost Medford airport to record February

The Medford airport extended its streak of record months to six in February, as 47,473 passengers passed through its gates.

Even with two fewer daily departures than a year ago, commercial travel jumped 18 percent over last Feburary's 40,239 count. The previous record was 43,970 in 2008.

"If you take January and divide by 31 (days) and February and divide by 28, February was even better than January," airport Director Bern Case said. "If February had 30 days, we would've had 50,844 passengers, but it was a short month."

Alaska Air Group's Horizon Air remained the dominant player, capturing 55.4 percent of the passenger revenue. The Seattle-based airline saw a 24.6 percent bounce in its year-over-year passenger count, while United Express jumped 19.2 percent.

"When we hit the record back in September, I thought it was nice, but one month doesn't make a streak," Case said. "But six months into it, it's starting to be quite a streak. Airfare prices were very good and some of that had to do with fuel costs. I think the airlines passed some of that along and built their relationships." 

Even with departures down to 16, seating capacity is up. 

St. George, Utah-based SkyWest Airlines, which operates both United Express and Delta Connection in this region, is in the process of changing over its fleet from the 30-passenger EMB 120 propeller planes to regional jets. All of the flights to and from San Francisco last month were 50- and 70-passenger regional jets.

"By the end of May we'll be fully transitioned to jets," said SkyWest spokesperson Marissa Snow. "We're trying to make sure our schedule is optimized for the most connections and accessibility as well as meeting capacity demands."

Delta Connection posted a marginal 2.2 year-over-year passenger gain, while Allegiant Air was off 4.7 percent.

When Case arrived in Medford in 1994, United and Horizon flew to two destinations — Portland and San Francisco. Today, there are eight cities served from the Rogue Valley. Eight flights are on regional jets and the others are on Alaska's Bombardier Q400s.

Case said he was hoping to talk Alaska into direct service to San Jose, capturing more of the Silicon Valley traffic. But his argument didn't fly.

"Our numbers show San Jose would work," he said. "But the (fees) San Jose is charging with its billion-dollar expansion doesn't pencil out for them."

Although the February numbers aren't in yet, auto rentals were up 18 percent in January.

"A rising tide raises all ships," Case said. "Restaurant sales, concessions and parking were all up. We're really thrilled."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.